When individuals reach old age, they invariably indulge in reminiscence. During these nostalgic moments, an unavoidable yearning for their kin and companions ensues. As a septuagenarian burdened by numerous ailments, particularly one who perceives the brevity of their remaining days, each reflection upon past experiences leaves behind a trove of cherished memories that evoke profound remorse. For instance, the untimely demise of my eldest brother and the sudden departure of my second sister elicited an intense sense of sorrow and regret. Alas, due to my infirmity, I was unable to bid them farewell, an enduring sorrow that haunts my heart, eternally unforgettable. Perhaps this remorse shall forever persist as an indelible regret.
Hailing from an indigent civilian lineage, my family of origin consisted of five siblings. Yet, to the best of my recollection, not a single family portrait adorns the walls of my humble abode. I surmise that this unfortunate absence can be attributed to our impoverished circumstances. When our family relocated to Nanjing following the liberation, our parents were compelled to part with our eldest sister and the newborn baby sister. Consequently, the opportunity for our entire family to assemble for a photographic memento never arose. This eternal lamentation constitutes the most profound regret endured by my parents prior to their demise.
For elderly individuals afflicted with limited mobility, the perusal of antiquated photographs often serves as the most pragmatic and efficacious means of summoning the past.
In the midst of my fervent and agonizing yearning for my recently departed second sister, I serendipitously discovered three photographs featuring her and her family beneath the glass pane adorning my desk. Gazing upon these snapshots evokes a profound sense of yearning for both my second sister and my familial bonds. Captured in the 1960s, this particular photograph was taken shortly after my enrollment in Nanjing University. It depicts a rare familial tableau, akin to a portrait, commemorating the nuptials of my eldest brother and sister-in-law. Alas, the absence of our little sister, who had been given away shortly after birth, and our eldest sister, who had been adopted many years ago, mars this cherished memento. The joy radiating from our parents in the photograph is palpable, while my newlywed brother and sister-in-law exude unbridled elation. As the sole individual from my family to attend university, my heart brimmed with uncontainable joy at the reunion. Adorned with the emblem of Nanjing Technical University, I stand beside Lingdi, my second sister among the five girls preceding me. Although her countenance radiates happiness in the image, it is regrettable that she was compelled by our destitution to pursue education at Nanjing Machinery Manufacturing School, a subordinate technical secondary institution, subsequently securing employment as a technician at a machinery factory in Zhenjiang.
The second photograph featuring my second sister was captured in a photo studio shortly after her marriage to Tao Shunbao, a retired soldier, and the birth of her cherished son, Tao Jun. It was during this period that my father paid a visit to relatives in Zhenjiang. The backdrop of this snapshot is the majestic Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. My father, brimming with delight, cradles his infant grandson in his arms while seated on a chair. Standing behind him is my second sister, exuding unadulterated joy. Decades later, when my second sister suddenly passed away, it was her precious son Tao Jun and my brother-in-law Shunbao who shouldered the solemn responsibility of arranging her funeral rites. Over the years, I frequently journeyed to Zhenjiang to reunite with her family, receiving a warm reception each time. Regrettably, due to my ailing health and the relentless onslaught of the formidable epidemic, I was unable to attend her final farewell. The contemplation of this circumstance begets immense sorrow whenever it crosses my mind.
The third photograph, taken at the Nanshan Scenic Area in Zhenjiang using a mobile device, features my second sister alongside our younger sister. By then, our eldest sister had already departed from this world. At this juncture, our parents had also passed away, and I had recently retired. Frequent visits to Zhenjiang were customary, allowing me to reconnect with my eldest, second, and youngest sisters while revisiting the dilapidated ancestral home in my unforgettable hometown of Shiqiaotou Siziyang.
On occasion, I am posed with a question: Why, as a cultured individual who has traversed renowned scenic locales both domestic and abroad, do I feel compelled to frequently return to my birthplace, gazing upon the decrepit edifice of our ancestral home? At such moments, I invariably chuckle before offering my response: “How could one fathom the sentiments that permeate the heart of an elderly individual immersed in culture?” The literati yearn for bygone eras, whilefinding solace in the memories of their youth. The allure of one’s hometown lies not only in the physical structures but also in the intangible essence of familiarity and belonging.
In summary, as an elderly individual burdened by ailments and the weight of time, I frequently find solace in reminiscing about my family and the cherished memories we shared. While I regret the absence of family portraits and the inability to bid farewell to my departed siblings, photographs serve as poignant reminders of the past. These snapshots evoke a deep longing for my second sister, who recently passed away, and the bonds we shared. Despite my infirmity, I find comfort in revisiting these memories and holding onto the essence of my ancestral home, a place that encapsulates the indelible connections and experiences that shaped my life.